Ramaphosa, in his weekly newsletter, said a number of provinces had received reports that individuals, some allegedly government officials, were hoarding or selling food parcels earmarked for the needy, or diverting them to their friends and families.
The coronavirus has caused panic and fear across the globe and brought economies to a standstill. SA’s lockdown has compounded the country’s own economic problems, with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) at risk of shutting down and the risk of wide-scale job losses.
As part of measures to help the poor, the government started issuing food parcels and there is talk about topping up social grants.
The issue of food parcels has been a thorny one, with many communities not receiving them, and allegations of corruption levelled at some officials tasked with distributing them. This has led to protests and looting in some areas.
Ramaphosa has called the allegations “disturbing and disgusting”.
“Over the past three weeks, we have been confronted with distressing images of desperate people clamouring for food parcels at distribution centres and of community protests against food shortages,” he said.
“If there is found to be substance to these allegations we will deal with the individuals concerned harshly.”
The president acknowledged that the government’s support to the country’s most vulnerable had been “slower than required”, and that lapses had occurred.
Ramaphosa said the cabinet, which was meeting on Monday, would finalise a set of measures to respond to the damage caused by the lockdown on the livelihood of people.
He said this meeting had been preceded by a range of engagements with a number of stakeholders including business, labour, religious organisations, civil society and the presidential economic advisory council.
“We will scale up welfare provision during this period to help households living below the poverty line,” said Ramaphosa.
“Even when the nationwide lockdown is lifted, its effects will continue to be felt for some time to come.”
Ramaphosa said food support was a short-term emergency measure and would need to be matched by sustainable solutions.